This morning, just like any other weekday morning, I drove my 20-year-old car to the neighborhood train station, where I stand butt to butt with hundreds of other commuters on my way to class and work in Atlanta’s central business district. The train ride typically takes 7 minutes, almost a third of the time it would take to drive me into town. As I was standing, shuffling through my overly crunk morning playlist, I thought how much more convenient it would be if they had apartments next to the station rather than the surface parking lot that sits there currently. I could sell my car and not have to worry about balancing two separate transportation costs. I could lower my carbon footprint, and I would not have to bother my dad with mundane car maintenance.

My experience is not unlike that of the thousands of other Georgia State students who have decided to live in-town but cannot afford to live all the way in town. My experience is not unlike the thousands of residents either, who rely on public transit to get to work or community facilities. Living in Atlanta, you learn how to adapt and make the most of the available infrastructure.  

As the train stopped at the Five Points train station, I mentally prepared myself for the onslaught of bodies all rushing off the train-car and then cramming into the single escalator that takes you to the main exit. Typically, I cut through a surface parking lot that served the now-sold Underground Atlanta. Walking through the parking lot, you cannot help but notice the large population of dispossessed Atlantans that live under the collection of viaducts that connect several significant thoroughfares between south downtown and north downtown.

The area, in general, is not designed well and creates a sense of desolation, even though just a block or two away hundreds of thousands of people are walking to work. As I arrived at the next crosswalk, I was struck by a conversation between two people demanding that the city incorporates better parking options that are more plentiful and accessible. I was dumbfounded, because just a few minutes earlier, I had made a very conflicting analysis of the city’s public infrastructure.

What we observe about the environment is dictated by our experiences. Where we come from, where we are going, and the places we arrive at in-between all have an effect on how we interact with any given location. Over the last month, I have been reminded how important it is to acknowledge the different experiences we all have and being inclusive of those experiences. Geography, by nature, creates varying experiences and being able to mediate between disparate insights and finding common ground is crucial, especially in the current political climate.

Once we recognize and value everyone’s sense of place, policies can be crafted in ways that will push everyone in a given community forward, leaving nobody behind, or casting the concerns of others to the side.